Ankle Replacement Surgery
Mark Campbell, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon on staff at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center and with the Banner CORE Center for Orthopedics in Sun City. He can be reached by calling1-866-974-2673.
Question: My orthopedist said I need ankle replacement. What can you tell me about this type of surgery? What is the longevity of this type of replacement? What can I expect for physical therapy? What kind of mobility will I have?
Answer: A total ankle replacement is a joint replacement surgery of the ankle joint.
While this procedure has been done for more than 30 years, it wasn’t a successful procedure until recently with the advent of better-designed ankle replacement products.
Ankle replacements are showing promising results in the treatment of ankle arthritis.
A patient experiencing severe ankle pain from arthritis may be a candidate for ankle replacement. This is an alternative to the other surgical options, such as ankle fusion (arthrodesis), and allows the patient to retain more mobility and movement in the ankle than a fusion would.
Unfortunately, not every patient, such as those with severely deformed or unstable ankles, is an appropriate candidate for ankle replacement. As with any joint replacement, an ankle implant is usually reserved for mature patients (late middle age and beyond). This is because most joint implants have a finite lifespan, and will wear out with time.
A person’s activity level is also an important consideration. Sports such as running or other high impact activities that put a lot of stress on the ankle joint are not advisable with a total ankle implant.
That said, for the appropriate patient and depending on the prosthesis used, current studies have demonstrated good to excellent results at 10 years, 15 years and longer.
As with all joint replacement procedures, physical therapy is very important in the recovery process. A variable period of non-weight bearing (depending on bone quality and the healing of the incision) will be followed by progressive advance in weight bearing and physical therapy. The therapist will help to gain motion and strength while decreasing swelling.
The main advantage of total ankle replacement is the return of some freedom of movement in the ankle. This movement is important for simple activities such as bending, walking, exercise and climbing. Full movement of the ankle joint is never regained even with total ankle replacement. The movement that is present, however, is far preferable to the lack of movement in the fused ankle. Most activities that don’t require high impact are allowable with ankle replacement.